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Late Life Depression: Treatments that Work

Late life depression is a common mental illness affecting approximately five percent of seniors according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Symptoms of late life depression include a persistent state of sadness (lasting at least two weeks), excessive worrying, frequent crying or pacing, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and an overall feeling of helplessness.

Patients who experience three of more of these symptoms should seek the help of a medical professional. While depression may seem common in seniors, it is certainly not a normal part of the aging process. Doctors from Emory University have stated that between 80-90 percent of seniors who seek medical help for late life depression are successfully treated using medications, psychotherapy and alternative therapies.

The most common form of treatment for depression is the use of antidepressant medication. A variety of medications are available that regulate serotonin levels in the brain, which helps stabilize the patient’s mood. While these medications are proven effective, the patient must allow time for the drugs to build up in their system before they can expect results.

Doctors must prescribe antidepressants that are easier for seniors to tolerate, of which the side effects (nausea, sleepiness, diarrhea) tend to dissipate over time. When introducing a new medication, it is always important for the patient to tell the doctor what other medications they are currently taking to reduce the chance of drug interaction complications.

Another viable treatment for depression is psychotherapy, which can be paired with the use of antidepressants or used alone. Larry Thompson, Ph.D. at Stanford Medical, suggests that therapy treatment for late life patients last between 10 to 20 sessions, but the final decision should be determined by the patient and medical professional.

An alternative treatment for depression is through the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Although it sounds frightening, ECT is a safe and effective way to treat life-threatening late life depression when antidepressants have not been successful. ECT uses impulses sent directly into the brain to cause a therapeutic effect and usually lasts between six to 12 sessions.

The risks of untreated depression are very serious, and seniors with the disorder are more likely to become disabled or become seriously ill. Suicide rates and premature death are also higher when treatment is not pursued. Share the positive and negative aspects of depression with the patient so that they may make an informed decision about their mental health.


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